Entrapped in Pavlovian conditioning | By Kanwar M Dilshad

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Entrapped in Pavlovian conditioning


OUR historic dilemmas and our persistent entrapment in multiple snares of misgovernance, kin-favouritism and tribalism, deviancy from laws and oaths, rent-seeking and resultant poverty, is so palpable and so deep that such behaviour and conduct may be the consequence of our mental and emotional psyche, which itself is the product of our historical experience and our ancient roots.

Let us first look at our historical experience of centuries over centuries of foreign imperial and colonial rule.

During those long and cruel centuries, our mental and emotional make-up was formed, shaped and engrained.

It is in those burdensome and shackled centuries of imperial and colonial rule that we learned how to survive as vanquished people.

Our survival kit mandated that anyone with force and authority was to be mollified and placated, anyone belonging to the in-group of the tribe was better than the out-group of the other tribe, and means were irrelevant when the end was survival itself.

This sufferance and oppression lasting centuries, by various foreign armies and cavalcades, is thus our real historical experience.

During an emotional and social crisis, even today the embedded survival-kit of tribalism and dismissing merit, rent-seeking (when having the upper hand), flattery (when having the lower hand and seeking favours), and deviancy from oaths and laws (necessity justifying such delinquencies), always get triggered.

Our default response remains unchanged and our national grundnorm remains the doctrine of necessity. Hence, we repeat the same conduct and behaviour, over and over again.

Now let us also have a hard look at our ancient roots. We are converts, all of us, without exception (official or tribal fables aside). We know that the incentive to convert is always higher for the oppressed lowest tiers of society.

The well-fed and powerful enjoy the comforts of their gold, harems, lands, and slaves (zar, zan, zamin) and have far less incentive to convert.

Hence, even before the centuries of foreign colonial oppression and imperial subjugation, as a social group belonging to the lowest tiers of the society, our survival kits were only focused on reducing pain and avoiding death (dire necessities).

Of course, once some of the co-converts from foreign lands conquered us, a few of the local elite also started to convert to join the new power centres.

But the main group of converts was those who were the lowest tiers of the society, and that social group is now us.

During personal and social crises, our emotional and psychological make-up and conditioning, which is embedded in our ancient roots, thus re-emerges.

Our survival kits during emergencies of dire nature flow out like Pavlovian responses.

Our default response remains unchanged due to our ancient roots and our conditioning over centuries as the lowest tiers of the society of converts; hence we repeat the same conduct and behaviour, over and over again, and our national grundnorm remains the doctrine of necessity.

There are only two well-known cures for throwing away such historical afflictions: education and prosperity.

Deprivation of these two conditions (education and affluence) was the fundamental reason why our survival kit only catered to a narrow range of circumstances.

The solution was to work on ensuring that there was more edification and more wealth for more people.

Even those societies that made transformative changes, like Japan and Korea, took many decades and generations.

But they provided learning and affluence to all their people and slowly unshackled the historical burdens that they had suffered and carried for centuries.

We failed on that account also. Even post-1947, when we got a new opportunity to shape our destiny, there was no concerted effort to build human capital and slowly wash away the burden of centuries through providing those two solutions (learning and affluence) to the vast majority of our people.

Of course, nothing is fated. We can always make and unmake history. But only those who make conscious and concerted efforts can change history, fate, circumstances, roots, conditioning, and instincts. The cure to any malaise cannot be found if there is a failure of correct diagnosis.

If we fail in making the correct analysis, we continue taking the wrong pills, which increase the malady and further deteriorate the health of the patient.

Hence, the first step has to be a correct diagnosis of our situation by recognizing our psychological and emotional millstones (historical experience and ancient roots) that we have to throw off before we start making transformative changes and escape our entrapments and dilemmas of misgovernance, kin-favouritism and tribalism, deviancy from laws and oaths, rent-seeking, and resultant poverty.

Our inability as a social group to recognize these historical millstones (of historical experience and ancient roots) may be keeping us bogged down in a slow but persistent circular movement sans transformative progress

The sanctioned mythology and the doctrinal mumbo-jumbo that is taught and parroted endlessly deny such ancient shackles.

In this inverted but subversive worldview, we are ‘exceptional’ and laws of history and governance do not apply to us.

Our authoritative national fable states that we are ‘protected’ by hidden and special forces, forgetting the simple fact that no one came to protect us from shame in that stadium faraway.

This Disney story maintains that we are the Israel of this part of the world and hence we must carry on with a fake sense of having chips-on-the-shoulders, not millstones on our backs.

With such erroneous diagnosis, no wonder we have failed to find the correct pills that help develop the sense of rule of law, governance by merit, and adherence to pacts, oaths and policies. We have failed to escape our entrapment in our Pavlovian conditioning over centuries.

—The writer is former Federal Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan and currently Chairman National Democratic Foundation.

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